Cleaning Up Your Business with Sam Geil

July 15, 2020

Formerly, the CEO/Chairperson of Geil Enterprises, Inc. (GEI) a Fresno, CA based company serving the Industrial Services market. He joined GEI in 2004 and led several initiatives including “Geil Green” focused on sustainability, the Geil Green Brand listed below, and 100% Employee Owned Company (ESOP).

In September 2014, Sam launched Geil Consulting specializing in strategic consulting, mentoring and board governance and has developed the “Business Sustainability” model for organizations wishing to integrate sustainability throughout the enterprise.

Sam’s involvement in the Green Industry began during his tenure with Grundfos Pumps and continued at Geil Enterprises Inc. with the acquisition of A-MAZ Cleaning Products. In May of 2007, Sam was a guest of California Governor Schwarzenegger, to participate in the Pacific Economic Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia representing green industries in California.

In 1986, Sam joined Grundfos Pumps Corporation (Denmark based company) and over his 18 year tenure was responsible for establishing the Canadian, Mexican, and South American operations, construction projects, sales in Central America and the Caribbean, various international projects and initiatives, and served as a member of the Executive Committee for North America and the United States.

Sam serves corporate and non-profit boards including: Sunnyland Mills, B-K Lighting, L&C Services, and the Institute for Family Buiness at Fresno State University. Past Board positions include: Geil Enterprises Inc., Climate Ride, Boys and Girls Club of Fresno County and the Center for Advance Research and Technology (CART). Co-Founder of the California Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance and the Central Valley Opportunity Fund. Founder & Chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Green Industry Hall of Fame (IGIHOF).

Sam has taught business courses at Fresno City College and the Training Institute, and has been invited to speak and lecture at several events across the United States.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact! podcast. I am John Shegerian and we are so lucky to have with me today, Sam Geil. He is a longtime friend. He is one of the leaders here in the Central Valley of California. Welcome to Impact!, Sam.

Sam: Thank you, John. It is great to be here.

John: You know, Sam, you have done so much in your life and I am, of course, great friends with your son, Patrick, and he has become part of even the Shegarian family over the years and we just adore your family. So, this is a very biased interview, I have to tell my listeners. But regardless of all the bias, there is a reason why you are on Impact! today. Because you have truly made an impact in so many ways, way beyond just the environment and sustainability. You have made an impact here in the Central Valley and the community you have lived in and worked in for many, many years. So, I want to share a little bit first on your background. I want you to share with our listeners your biography and your journey before we go into specifics of what you are doing today, day by day.

Sam: Very good John. Well, I am a native Californian born in the Bay Area. Went to high school and college in the Bay Area and married my wife, Donna, when we both attended San Jose State back in the 70s. We have two wonderful children. And as you mentioned and two really wonderful grandchildren now, so we are in that phase of our life now where we have grandkids and it is deja vu, right, all over again. That really is the highlight right there, John. I mean, you know, we could wicked stuff right there, you know what I mean. But after Donna and I got married, we both had careers and I spent the first ten years in the computer business in Silicon Valley.

And then after transferring to Manheim Beach, California, I got an offer and joined Grundfos and in Fresno, California, a Danish manufacturer of water pumps and water systems, and I was there for eighteen years. Did a lot of cool stuff traveling all over the world, opening up companies and just having a heck of a time as a business person. That is pretty much where I cut my teeth. And then in 2004, I left Grundfos and accepted a position in Fresno – because we had moved to Kansas City – in Fresno as the CEO of our family business, my brother’s business, which they started in 1986. [inaudible] Commercial Industrial Services Company. So, I was the CEO and Chairman of the Board there until 2013 and then left to start my own consulting business, Geil Consulting, which is what I do now.

John: And at Geil Consulting and for our listeners out there who would like to connect with Sam and Geil Consultin, you go to www.geilconsulting.com. What exactly is your day-to-day work look like at Geil Consulting.

Sam: Sure. It is really I would say pretty eclectic. Actually the business model I started with is not exactly what I have today, but that is okay. Because what I have learned is the market, you know, seeks kind of its own level and what I started with, John, was focusing on mentoring. You are mentoring younger people if they wanted to sharpen their skills in leadership and management; board governance sitting on the board of companies, mostly small to medium-sized; and then general consultancy. So, because my background is really so broad. You know, I am really a generalist at its purest form. I can work with organizations that need help in any element of the P&L. So, I pretty much span everything from revenue to net income. And what has happened is my reputation is more of a doer, right? That is what people, you know, if they ask you, “You know, what would Sam do?” You know he is a doer.

And so, that is pretty much what ended up being the, you know, value-added proposition in all the cases with my clients, so I sit on for five boards. I mentor about thirty to thirty-five young people and I have one major client, which I want to talk about and that is a major foundation underneath the California Community Foundation under LA. And I was retained to address homelessness in the city of Merced back in 2006. Since then, we have granted close to a little over two million dollars to almost providers in the city of Merced to help them with addressing the homeless crisis there. So, that is probably, of all the things I have ever done as a consultant, that is probably the most impactful and the one that has been the most life-changing for me, because I have had to get on the street. You know, I have had to get into it pretty deep. It is not a research project. This is a direct funding project where the money goes directly to the folks that need it. So, now, we are focused on COVID-19 and doing basically the same work, looking for agencies and organizations to help grant money so that they can do their great work. So, it is a lot of fun.

John: That is really great stuff, you know. Again, a part of our population that gets historically marginalized and growing up in New York City, I used to walk by homeless people everyday, going to high school and then college and Manhattan. And I once heard Dan rather talk about his experience in New York City with homeless people and he said every day he would pass a homeless person which was everyday walking the streets of New York, it is impossible not to wear. Whatever part of the city you are in, he would always say a little prayer to himself and the prayer was simple. It was for the grace of God, and I always remembered what he said and it is really stuck with me the rest of my life with regards to our tragic homeless situation. Throughout the United States, I do not think any community is really immuned from this and it is so wonderful. I did not know that part of your professional and personal life and that is a great and impactful thing that you are doing and I am so happy to hear that.

And it is, again, you know, it continues to polish the Geil branding the Shegarian household. That is for sure, but you are always a rock star in our household nonetheless, but that is really important work. Good for you, good for you. I had no idea. You know, so at Geil Consulting, you have the young people you mentor. You have the homeless issue you are addressing in Merced and then board work that you do. You know, Sam, after we had become friends and after Pat became an adopted part of our family and the two families got to know each other, you had the idea of IGIHOF and I would love for you to share, you know, the genesis of your environmental passion and why you and how you came up with that . But where did that emanate from in your soul and in your persona? How did that even come about?

Sam: Yeah. Well, it started a long time ago, John. It started with my upbringing. We grew up in a small town in the valley of Merced. And my mother raised four children by herself and had to lean heavily into the church for support. So, we all attended very small Catholic School in Merced. And so, we got exposed to the Bible in a very early age and probably, the part that struck me the most was Genesis in the very beginning and if you really read Genesis, a big portion of Genesis is about, you know, God’s wish for a man to really take care of the gift that we receive called this earth, right? And so, as I grew up and went, you know, into Boy Scouts and all that good stuff, one [inaudible] that really stuck with me was you always leave your campsite better than when you got there. Right? And that was really drilled into us. You know, you got there. You unloaded and then before you left, you had to really make sure that campground was in good shape.

So at an early age, those kinds of things were reinforced, you know, as a young person. So as I grew up, I always kind of had an interest in ecology if you want to call it that. So when the 60s and 70s hit, it was a natural thing to get involved in and get interested in so, you know, I paid a lot of attention to what was going on in that arena. Once I hit my professional career, I was, again, exposed to, you know, corporate ecology, if you want to call it that. We did not call it that, but that is really what it was and it really came together when I work for the pump company, Grundfos. Grundfos was a company way before its time when it comes to sustainability and partly because of, you know, the product. Right? The mission which was to provide water to the world. And so I was so fortunate to have worked for a company that allowed me to travel internationally and actually, you know, do some things that really nobody else really would have the opportunity to do it unless you were in that space and time. So, you know, the timing was perfect an, so when, I do not know if you remember, but 1998 there was a hurricane in Central America. The hurricane Mitch, which wiped out thousands of people and, you know, number of bridges and water systems.

And so as part of my responsibility in Central America, I went down and tried to help and establish new water systems for the people down there. And during my visit to Nicaragua, I stayed in Managua, the capital, and the hotel I was in overlooked Lake Managua, Flat Lake Nicaragua. So Lake Nicaragua is the largest freshwater lake in Central America. And then Lake Managua is really another lake kind of attached to it. You know, the one feeds the other. And there were some spectacular native fish in that lake. So when I got to my room on the eighth or ninth floor, I looked out and the lake had the consistency of like a chocolate milkshake. I mean, it was really in bad shape. And so I asked my host at the time, you know, was that the result of Hurricane Mitch and he said no, it is really just pollution. And I should really [inaudible] people actually still, you know, live off that lake and I just could not believe it.

And so without disclosing the company that was the culprit, I asked the guy said, “You know, where is the pollution come from and unfortunately and and totally embarrassed, it was primarily because of a US company dumping their waste into the lake. And that was really, really embarrassing and that was a joke to my system. So putting that one in my little, you know, cabeza, I started to work with our company more aggressively in the area of sustainability, and then I left in 2004 and moved back to Fresno and was, then the CEO of our family business. And that is when you and Kevin and, I believe, Aaron came through and shared your business concept, which was brilliant. And that was the same time I was starting to get into, you know, the whole and it is more serious way now. As CEO, I wanted to green up our business. I wanted that to be my legacy was.

John: I remember that.

Sam: Yeah, the greening of the business. So we ended up taking a very aggressive stance on, you know, our carbon footprint and we actually took a very bold action to eliminate about a million dollars worth of business overnight because I simply refuse to continue to do dirty work and that dirty work was basically cleaning grocery store floors, you know, with scrubbers and strippers and all that and the propane that was, you know, that was the offshoot of the machines that were running. Right? And all that dust and propane ended up in the store,right on your fruit and veggies and all that stuff and I just could not live with that. So overnight, I just pulled our clients. You know, we are out of it. You know, we are not going to do that business anymore. And that was a real interesting decision and a really interesting point in our company because, you know, the employees were like, “Okay. What are we going to do now?” You know and I said, “Do not worry. You know, we are going to find clients that, you know match up to our values and they are out there. We just got to go find them and we were able to do that.

So that whole journey of cleaning up our business forced me to attend a lot of conferences and conventions on the green industry, learning chemistry, you know, and in the building side of things, I got certified Green Build and all that stuff. Because I really wanted to know firsthand, you know, is this real or, you know, is this a game? So I did that and in the process of going to all these conferences, John, I had walk the exhibit floor talking to all these really cool manufacturers and entrepreneurs and people who are converting stuff into you know, recyclable goods and all that kind of good stuff. What I noticed was they had no marketing ability they were they were geeks like me that were really good at, you know, thinking about things, but marketing was not their forte and they did not have the money to market their products. So I thought, I wonder, you know, what would be a good way to help these guys, you know, get some air under their wings, do some marketing for nothing. Basically, for free. And that is where the concept of this Hall of Fame was born.

John: What year did you kick that off? What year was that kickoff?

Sam: Legally, we are in place in 2008. 2010 is when we started the nomination process and inducting people in the Hall of Fame. So we have been doing it since 2010 or 2011.

John: Right. For our listeners though who want to learn more about this great work that you are doing and understand it even deeper, they could go to www.gogreenhall.org. So you launch it in officially like let us just say 2010 where you started taking nominees. And talk about the journey the last ten years.

Sam: Sure. Well, this little thing is a fantastic journey and as you know in your entrepreneurial and you are starting up, you know, a lot of things happen, right? And yet, we prepared for the unexpected, but for the most part it was pretty smooth sailing. Think, it was really interesting when I would go to the urban areas and talk about the concept, people were very excited. Not so much in the rural. The rural areas, you know, “Well, we will see.” You know, they were pretty pessimistic about, you know, anything that had to do with environmental green sustainability, but once we started nominating and inducting,they could see that we were an inside-out organization, right? Not an outside-in. So my mission was to influence the c-suite, the board directors, and say, “Hey, look there is a better way to run your business. I have done it. I can show you how to be more profitable, be cleaner and healthier for your clients and your employees and build a more sustainable organization. And I always thought that model work better than, you know, being on the outside advocating and kind of screaming and yelling at them, right?

To me, this was a business proposition as well as an environmental proposition for sure and the way that I leverage the conversation was with our inductees and showing them what these great organizations have done and that they have a willingness to share their secrets and share their methods and processes on how to become greener or as I say now sustainable. And so, one of the things we did at Geil Enterprise is to be really the sustainability model was employee ownership. So, we sold the company into an ESOP and now, we have, you know, five hundred to six hundred employees. We have the opportunity that they would never have in this industry.You know, they own a piece of the rock and retire with a really strong retirement program. And so that ended up being more my legacy than anything else and that company was, you know, converting it to a hundred percent employee ownership which went flawlessly. So I deviate a little bit but [crosstalk]

John: No, no. That is a good deviation because that is an impact itself because you also show there are different ways to be an entrepreneur and you do not have to own the whole thing yourself. You do not have to, to be a great entrepreneur. So that, itself, is a wonderful lesson for our listeners out there. So that is really a good deviation actually. Thank you. So keep going.

Sam: So anyway, we have been doing this since 2010 or 2011. We have inducted over close to a hundred [inaudible] at organizations and people, including yourself, which we are very proud of. You and Ray C. Anderson were the first, you know, and that is good company, you know, that guy.

John: Oh my God. He is a legend. He came on the podcast in the beginning and leaned in and was excited to come on and I will tell you what, I still remember doing the interview with him and what a gentleman… First of all, what a gentleman and second of all, what a visionary. He was a great guy.

Sam: Actually, we have the last video of Ray C. Anderson before he passed away. So we are very fortunate to have gotten him on video, you know, before his passing. Anyway, so it has been going really well. We have a lot of really cool stories. If I can share one…

John: Please.

Sam: Yeah. There is a winery up in Mendocino called Frey Wineries. And they are the first biodynamic winery in the country, all right? And yeah, they are plugging along and they got nominated and they got inducted and it was not long after their abduction where a big, I will not say who it is, but a big box store called them and said, “hey look will buy everything you got. We are looking for you know, a biodynamic, you know environmental safe and all that good stuff a green company that makes wine and we want to offer that to our clients, you know, to our shoppers.” And so they would have probably had a harder time, you know, breaking into that that market if they had not gotten some exposure through [inaudible]. At least, that is what I am told so we were really proud of that story and I hope people, you know, if you like wines that are healthier to drink, that is what they do. And so that is one story. I mean, we have a number of stories like like that and we have had stories of people who have been inducted who ended up getting bought out. You know, they got their company bought and they made you know, some good coins, you know.

John: Nothing bad with that either by the way. There is nothing shameful about that at all either, right?

Sam: That is right.

John: Let us talk about another great story. Let us talk about what you have coming up. And, again, for our listeners out there who want to connect with Sam and his great company, you could go to www.geilconsuting.com. And if you want to learn more about what is happening with IGIHOF, you can check them out at gogreenhall.org. October 1st, you have a big event coming up. Share with our listeners a little bit of what is happening on October 1st. Why that is so important and things of that such.

Sam: Sure, sure. Well, historically, we have held our events on college campuses and we have decided that we want to have a home and really settle in one location. Because the amount of work and the carbon footprint we leave is really high as we move it around. Okay, and so by having one stationary place, we can lower our carbon footprint and we can build some stability and and also get some financial support, I think, that we would not have been able to get otherwise and that has come to fruition and so we were granted a sizable amount of money from a foundation to do this work. And so, we are very fortunate about that. So, we chose Merced and Merced because of UC Merced and they are our partner now in what we are doing. And that is a wonderful sustainability story. That campus is just about I think entirely silver LEED certified. It may be the greenest campus in the country. Maybe they are or Santa Barbara, but at least in the top two. Okay.

And so, we are really, really happy about that relationship and the plan was to have our event at the school. But what happened was there are two very old hotels in Merced, the El Capitan and the Tioga Hotel, that were purchased and have been renovated. Right? And the ultimate hotel, you know, a sustainability story. Basically, there were just transients living in these hotels and cleaned it up and in re-gentrifying, you know, Downtown Merced, California and our plan was to hold part of it there and at the Merced Theater, which is across the street from one of the hotels. it is the old Spanish theater in town and and that is being renovated into like an activities adult activities center, right, with small theater where you can put on shows and acts and put on concerts and so on and so on.

And so, what we decided to do because of COVID-19 is basically to this point, we have [inaudible] from that and we are going to do a virtual event there and and if things look good and they open up, we will do a combo. You know virtual and stream it live and full. So far, our inductees, our honorees, really, really embrace that approach. Some of them are international, so the travel would have been pretty egregious. I really, really like the fact that they could just dial in like we Are doing [inaudible] with video and we are excited about the change. Actually, we are actually excited about it because it really is a much better green approach than the traditional, where you have people flying in and staying in hotel rooms, and they have to rent a car, costs a lot of money. I think those days are behind us now. Honestly, John, I think more and more organizations are going to go virtual.

John: Well, it also shows why another reason, underlying reason, that makes you such a great and successful entrepreneur at your course and you are flexible. It is not all or nothing in the event, so you know, tragic circumstances beyond any of our controls happen to happen to the world, this COVID-19 situation. And instead of scratching your very important and relevant and impactful event, you found a way to make it happen otherwise. And that, again, is just that flexibility to me is just truly the trademark of people that I have seen become success over and over again and it is just not a luck thing. That flexibility, you know, is a common theme through entrepreneurs that go through life, through surreal success stories and you are one of those really blessed people that just have it. Whatever it is, you have it. And flexibility, again, proves out to be a great, great strength of yours and other entrepreneurs. And I want you to share. There is a lot of young people out there that listen to the show and look up to you, again, for mentorship. Talk a little bit about some of your trademark time hacks and what is your major secret super power that, again, has kept you ahead of now, so many changes that you have seen in society, business and otherwise throughout your life.

Sam: Wow, that is great question and I would say I was fortunate to be raised to work hard. There were certain principles that I was raised with and I call them the non-negotiables, all right? You know, that your parent teaches you or the people that influence your life and one of those was you work hard. Like I said, I was raised by a single mother. We did not have any money, but I always had money. I always had money. I had more money than my buddies. He had two parents. Because I hustle. You know, I [inaudible] and then I learned how to manage money, right? I learned the value of money and that was important. So hard work would be probably, you know, number one. And number two is self-awareness.

John: What do you mean by that?

Sam: Well, self-awareness is understanding who you are, what make me take and understand your limitations, right?

John: Got it. Got it. Your strengths and limitations, your strengths and limitations.

Sam: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And you know, I had some interesting tutoring by my one of my grandmothers who was very, very wise, you know, would say, play on your strengths, play on your strengths, play on your strengths. And, again, you know, I was fortunate to be to be mentored by a very loving and caring godparents and grandparents. So that gave me the passion for mentoring. So I would say, you know, hard work, self-awareness and then, you know give back. You know constantly giving back and some say pay it forward. And no limit to that. You know, it could be whatever. Whatever is the right thing to do and then, you know, over a practical perspective, you know, I learned how to time manage. I learned priority is more important than the calendar.

John: That is great.

Sam: I learned some basic tenants of quality, quality management, you know, getting things right the first time. You know, some of those lessons I learned in business, you know, be patient and be flexible. And I was very fortunate to work for companies that gave me the freedom. Because of my self-awareness, you know, I knew that I had a pretty strong ego. You know, I knew that I have a tendency to be more verbal than listen. I know I have a tendency to have a strong sense of urgency. And you know, my level of detail is not as high maybe as the demands of the job sometimes, but because I had that self-awareness, John, I either surrounded myself with people who had the strengths that I had weakness or displayed all my strengths. And that really, really, really, really paid off. And then I would say, to put a period at this, I was fortunate to work for a company that valued learning and that really was important lesson for me and I have been a life learner ever since that experience. And so…

John: Ongoing learning. You are a constant student.

Sam: That is right. Watching, learning, taking it all in and I would say that would be my story in a nutshell.

John: That is awesome. And Sam, before we have to say goodbye, anything else you want to promote, get out there to our listeners before we sign off for today? Of course, you are always welcome back on this show. This is your home. You have been on before and you have done such great work and you are such an important figure here in the valley. It is an honor for me to always have you on. But can you share anything else that you want to get out there or any shameless plugs for our listeners before we sign off for today?

Sam: No, I do not really have any shameless plug except I would like people to get involved with the green industry. I think that is where the opportunities are for all the young people coming up.

John: Very true, very true.

Sam: Regardless of what you are into: law, medicine. There is a green element to all of it. There is a sustainability element to all that.

John: It is true.

Sam: And so, that is my shameless promotion is to get kids to go towards that type of future as opposed to the traditional lane that kids have been on for years and I think it will pay off in spades form. I think it will really have dividends form in the long run and I wish I could live long enough to see you at all. But that is my shameless promotion.

John: Well, it is a great shameless plunging for… And will give you a shameless plug for any of our listeners out there that want to meet Sam or hire Sam to beyond the board or get involved with their company or mentor them, go to www.geilconsulting.com. And to learn more about Sam’s great upcoming IGIHOF event on October 1st, 2020 in Merced, go to www.gogreenhall.org. Sam Geil, you are a great friend. You are making an impact and making the world a better place. It is an honor to be your friend. It is a pleasure to have you on our show. And thank you for being everything that you are.

Sam: Well, thank you, John and love to you and your family.

John: You are the best. Take care.

Sam: Thanks, John.